Amazon's new Early Reviewer Program is intended to boost reviews on products that have recently launched in a store. This could help new products and brands build sales velocity, and help Amazon to ensure that more customers leave real reviews.
Selling online relies heavily on building trust between potential customers and the store they are buying from. Consumers must believe that they are getting a quality product for their money, and they must believe that they will most likely enjoy their purchase.
Peer review and social proof has played an intrinsic role in the rise of e-commerce, from the early days of forum reviews and bloggers. Amazon understood this from the start, which is one of the reasons they were able to maneuver from a small bookstore into a mega brand that owns nearly 55% of all online sales in the USA.
Data shows that 70% of all shoppers use online reviews to make decisions, and 68% try to read 6 reviews or more before making a purchase.
Amazon capitalized on that fact for more than 20 years, and they have consistently improved their review scoring. For example, Amazon introduced the "Was this review helpful" button to allow users to independently score the value of reviews to devalue frivolous complaints. Amazon is also on a mission against fake reviews, first suing "review sites" offering premium fake reviews to Amazon sellers, and then in October of 2016, banning incentivized reviews.
These changes aim to remove fake reviews and boost the perceived value of them. By telling consumers that they do everything in their power to keep out false information, they can ensure that the social proof associated with each review is higher, leading to a greater likelihood of purchase.
Unfortunately, by enforcing stricter standards for reviews, Amazon reduced the number of reviews being left. While Amazon Vine program still enables qualifying companies to get early reviews, only a small percentage of consumers leave reviews on anything at all without being asked. Unfortunately for most e-commerce sellers, products are actually the least reviewed type of purchase.
While this invariably hurts sellers by reducing the number of reviews and therefore of sales, it also hurts Amazon, which relies on sales to earn money. Amazon's new Early Reviewer program, or Early Reviewer Rewards, is designed to combat this by offering incentives for the first reviewers on a product.
What are Early Reviewer Rewards?
Amazon's Early Reviewer Program helps to build reviews on new listings by offering buyers incentives to leave an honest review after making the purchase. Amazon controls the quality of the reviews because shoppers won't know if they qualify for the system until after they've made the purchase. They will also only be able to qualify for an incentive within a certain time frame, limiting the ability to game the system.
Customers who purchase a product that has fewer than 10 reviews could potentially be invited to submit a review in exchange for a small reward (typically a $1-$3 gift card). Because the review can range from 1 to 5 stars and still qualify, it incentivizes more actual buyers to follow through to leave a review.
With no disclosure in advance, it's harder for fake reviewers to qualify, and by simply prompting actual buyers to leave a review, this program could allow Amazon to boost reviews while meeting FTC guidelines.
This system works better than incentivized reviews, but it can still be gamed. Sellers can still control early reviews by simply paying others to make a purchase and leave a review as part of the program. Gaming the system in this way violates Amazon and FTC guidelines, and is unethical. Because some buyers may still consider this as a possibility, the Early Reviewer Program may not see a significant boost in buyer trust of reviews.
Why the Early Reviewer Program Benefits Sellers
Amazon's early reviewer program is financially beneficial for sellers, will increase number of reviews, and will help increase sales.
Most sellers see significant increases in conversion after the first 5-10 reviews, and if Amazon is helping to secure these reviews, you will have less to worry about or invest in for your products. This move is far from philanthropic on Amazon's part, as they only make money when you make money, but it does greatly benefit you as a seller.
You can also consider that as you increase customer reviews, more buyers will follow the crowd and leave their own review, so a quick jumpstart of 5 or 10 initial reviews is great for your long-term sales velocity.
Finally, because customers will be able to see that reviews were placed by verified buyers, they will be more likely to trust the content.
How is the Early Reviewer Program Different From Amazon Vine Program?
Amazon's Vine program has helped sellers drive reviews for some time, but it is completely different from the Early Reviewer Program. Vine is essentially a review club filled with 'elite' reviewers from Amazon. These reviewers receive free product samples (or products) from vendors, and are then invited to leave an honest review.
The Amazon Early Reviewer Program is open to any customer on Amazon.com (although Amazon states that they are using an algorithm to root out accounts with a history of leaving fake reviews). Sellers are not aware if they will be invited to leave a review when they make the purchase, and they might not be invited even if the product is new to Amazon.
In short, the Early Reviewer Program only exists to boost the number of buyers leaving reviews on products they purchase. Your only concern will be ensuring that those early buyers have a great experience with your products, because they receive equal compensation for leaving a bad review or a good one.
Amazon's Early Reviewer Program could offer a lot of potential for sellers, and in more ways than one. By increasing the volume of organic reviews, Amazon can reduce fake reviews while boosting consumer trust in those reviews. This could help build sales velocity and improve organic sales. Also, since buyers understand they may qualify for an incentive from Amazon, they may be more likely to take the initial step and buy a new product with no reviews.